As methods of communication expand and improve, call centers will have to move in tandem. No longer are phone calls or emails the only means by which companies can help customers. Companies that shy away from using social media to reach out to—and then help—customers, run the risk of not only missing the boat, they risk losing valuable customers.
Young customers especially expect companies to have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and they may want to engage with someone even when they don’t have any real issues with a product. In order to clarify an offering or feature, they may simply want to chat with someone via mobile apps such as WhatsApp or MessageMe.
But social media in call centers “is equivalent to superficial footfalls in brick-and-mortar malls or stores,” says Raju Bhatnagar, who has 32 years of expertise in the Banking and IT/ITeS domains and is now an independent strategic consultant. You cannot ignore such footfalls in case some of them convert into buying customers, but don’t expect too much of that to happen.
The following five trends deserve attention:
1. Smart route-through
For decades, call centers have used the IVR—intelligent voice response system—to route callers to the correct help desk where they can help themselves through automated instructions or reach an agent. But the system has outlived some of its utility and progressed to a level where it can gauge the nature of interest of the caller and connect the call to the right department or expert.
Using voice analytics, call centers will also be able to ascertain the mood of the customer. An irate or even irritated customer may quickly be routed to a more senior agent with experience and discretion to make palliative offers.
2. Intelligent call-backs
This is an emerging trend that has as much bearing on the sale itself in addition to after-sales service. Let’s say you are a regular shopper at a particular store (offline or online) and purchase certain types of products. Normally you ignore the perfumes section. Back-end analytics shows up this peculiarity and after a polite wait, the store sends you a customized offer via email or on your phone: a big discount on perfumes. You may actually end up buying something, which would be a success story for the store. The least they’d achieve is to make you aware of their perfume section.
Another simple way of converting fence-sitters into buyers is offering a discount on stuff they have put into a wishlist on a website. All of this requires sophisticated analytics at the back-end—and call centers are definitely investing in this technology.
Telephone calls using only voice do not work very often, especially if the caller on the line is technically-challenged but still in need of full service. In such a case, video will make a huge difference. A recent little pocket cartoon got it right by depicting an old lady, computer in the background, telling a call center agent, “Ok, I’ve thrown out the cookies, now what?” while she empties her jar of edible cookies into the trash can.
Video is also of great help when you buy a DIY product but really don’t know how to put it together. The furniture giant IKEA uses video walk-throughs and animated assemblies very effectively. Yes, it will cost more to have a human being at the end of a live video chat and the bandwidth and other infrastructure requirements are more expensive—but that’s a decision the call center has to make.
In the case of complicated technical issues, engineers themselves may be encouraged to get into video chats with customers, helping them understand first-hand how their products are received by buyers. In addition, this also will help in saving huge amounts of travel time and money.
4. Freelance workforce
Now that handheld devices such as smart phones and tablets can do most of the work that a computer screen does, call centers may choose not to house hundreds of workers in one location. Non-critical work can be easily farmed out to individuals who work from home or even are on the move. Location will really be of no consequence. This could result in some offshore being moved onshore as outsourcing to part-time workers becomes more affordable. Security and privacy concerns will of course have to be addressed.
5. Impact of Cloud
Greenfield or new call centers will find their capex coming down drastically as they buy or rent software and other infrastructure from the cloud. They can pass on these savings to their customers. Existing call centers may also make the move this year as cloud technologies mature and stabilize.
All in all, expect a very exciting year ahead for call centers, which have generally been confined to the bottom of the heap in the technology pile. Analytics will play a crucial role in upping the profile of the industry and move them center stage.